Many businesses are facing massive changes—is your organization ready to handle them?

By Alison Szetho | July 15, 2020

The global economy is navigating unprecedented circumstances, but there is a silver lining. Right now is one of the best times in your business’ history to take advantage of the opportunity for transformative change.

We all know that change is important for business growth and improvement, but we often don’t grasp the extent of what making a successful change actually involves. Especially given the current economic climate, understanding exactly what’s needed and why to manage change well has become more critical than ever.

Change programs often fail due to insufficient planning in the early stages to assess and establish change readiness. One of the main reasons people tend not to plan upfront or conduct diagnostic assessments for change programs is because they don’t apply the same rigor of problem solving to a people/behavioral problem as they would to a technical problem. In a previous article we discussed the importance of treating change problems with the same rigor as technical problems, and the implications that carries for how to manage a program and ultimately how to manage a business.

Successfully managing change requires an upfront examination of an organization’s commitment and capability to deliver on the benefits of a proposed initiative. This is the foundation on which a successful change management plan can be built. In this article we explore the role of change readiness assessments in the early planning stages, and how these assessments help direct subsequent efforts and program planning. In other articles we zoom out to discuss the guiding principles for positive change, and zoom in to examine the best practices for conducting a change readiness assessment.

What is a change readiness assessment?

A change readiness assessment is an indispensable early-planning diagnostic step. It measures two key dimensions of readiness: commitment and capability. It answers a seemingly simple but fundamental question: is the organization willing and able to execute a successful change?

  1. Commitment involves understanding if and why people in your organization are willing to change. Do they want to and why? Do they value the change? Do they have to change because there’s little choice? Or do they feel they ought to or are obliged to change? There are many reasons why people might want a change and it’s not good or bad that these reasons can differ. All of these reasons indicate a level of commitment from people. But believing in the value of the change is one of the strongest footings to start out on.
  2. Capability involves understanding if people are able to change. Do people believe that both they and the organization can successfully implement the change? Measuring your organization’s capability for change requires examining many different functional areas: human, financial, and informational resources.

A readiness assessment is a highly tailored tool that’s used as the basis for a customized and scaled change strategy, it isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Depending on the type and scope of change a business is planning, a change readiness assessment targets these two areas—commitment and capability—drilling down to the appropriate degree to obtain the most accurate and detailed picture of how ready an organization is for change.

This diagnostic information can then be used to understand the degree of success a change program may achieve under the current conditions, as well as hone in on areas that need more work before proceeding.

What happens if change readiness is not high?

If a change readiness assessment discovers that your organization’s change readiness is not high, it means preparatory work is needed to ensure a proposed change can deliver on its business goals.

Low change readiness can manifest in people resisting initiating the change, putting less effort into implementation, preserving less in the face of implementation challenges, and exhibiting—at best—begrudging tolerance of the new change. Acceptance and use is likely to be intermittent, scattered, and uneven. Ultimately, the expected business results of the change are unlikely to be realized.

Understanding your business’ change readiness

Knowing your organization’s level of change readiness and which areas might need more work is a precursor to maximizing adoption and minimizing resistance. Just the act of discovering where you stand can help bring awareness to the importance of people, their beliefs, and behaviors in positioning yourself for successful change.

Moving forward in the right direction from a readiness assessment involves shared resolve and collective action. No matter what type of change you’re planning, more often than not it’s the human factor that’s the make-or-break component. Successful change is a team sport.